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How Much RAM Does My Computer Use? How much do I need?

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This Tutorial addresses:
  • RAM
  • DDR2
  • DDR
  • Support
  • Computers
  • DIMM
  • Motherboards
  • DDR3
  • Memory Upgrade
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  • Operating Systems
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How Much RAM Do I Need?

With more and more options for adding RAM to computers springing up over the past few years, one of the most frequent questions that I have had asked is "How much RAM do I need?" One of the things I know for a fact that it feels pretty cool to have the best computer on the block. I also know however, that RAM can be rather expensive, with 16gb of DDR3 costing nearly $170, give or take. So how much do you need?

Well, first things first. What is RAM and what does it do?
RAM stand for Random Access Memory. It provides a much faster alternative to your hard drive, by letting applications save data on it at a higher rate of speed. Without it, your computer would be very, very, slow. Solid state drives may eventually phase out the need for much RAM, but don't bank on it happening in the near future. As of today, your system will probably be needing more and more RAM. I will explain as best as I can what options are available and what you may need depending on your computer use.

One of the first things to do before adding or purchasing RAM is to make sure it works with your system. If you are buying a system from a popular manufacturer such as Dell, Asus, Apple, Acer or HP, you will most likely not have to worry about this issue. The one thing you may have to consider is making sure you have a 64 bit copy of Windows. If you do not, no more than 4gb will be usable at any one time. The different calibers of Windows 64 bit allow incrementally more RAM, so make sure you know the capability of your OS. Issue two can be a hiccup for people who are new to system building or want to upgrade your pre-purchased PC. The issue that can arise is how much memory (RAM) your system will support. For those building computers, check with your motherboard manufacturer. For those with all in one PCs, check with your PC manufacturer for support information. Different computers will support different generations (DDR,DDR2,DDR3), and different speeds such as 800mhz, 1333mhz, 1600mhz. Those speeds let you know how fast data can flow in and out of your RAM. Now on to specific needs and rough estimations of RAM support.

Your standard laptop. The standard laptop these days holds anywhere from 4-16gb of RAM. Pretty much all Windows based laptops have minimal to some upgradeability. 8gb will suffice for most users.

Yet in a product like the new Apple Retina generation unibody laptops, the RAM is actually soldered to the motherboard, making it impossible to upgrade. Apple gives you up to 16gb of DDR3 1600 RAM in their laptops. The newer apple operating systems compress some of the data stored in the ram for more efficient use. For most general use 8gb will be fine. Apple's OS also automatically fills nearly all available RAM with spare data to speed up your computer, so it will look like you are using more than you are. If you are photo editing and doing HD movie production, perhaps 16gb would be better for you. The easiest, safest way to get Apple compatible RAM is through OWC. As a notice though, I would advise watching your budget with Apple products, as they can get quite expensive, quite fast. However, none of this is meant to discourage you from Apples amazing product line.

Now on to the standard desktop PC.

The standard desktop PC has many configuration options. Even all in one computers can hold 16-32gb of RAM, and it is a little bit cheaper than laptop memory. With these computers, you will never have to worry about your RAM being non-exchangeable/upgradeable, because desktop memory is probably the easiest to fiddle around with. All desktops are capable of being opened to remove and add memory, add PCI peripherals as well as add other components. For the at home web surfer who might occasionally run Office, 4gb will serve you well. For a little extra pop, try 6 or 8gb. If you are interested in lots gaming, please, get an actual gaming PC.

Now, for the moment all the soon to be gamers have been waiting for...... How much RAM you need in your good old gaming tower.

Gaming PCs. These very large, massively powerful, easily configurable computers come at a price. In my opinion, it is easier to go over budget on a gaming tower than in Apple products. Gaming towers can hold anywhere from 1-128gb of RAM. I personally run 16gb of DDR3 1600mhz and only ever use 27% of it at normal loads (one game and several Chrome tabs). If your graphics card has say, 2,000 cuda cores and runs at 3,000mhz, you may need more RAM depending on your processors capability (speed) of processing that data. If you have too little RAM, anything less than 4gb, your computer will lock up and your motherboard chipset will soon be able to fry an egg. In other words, balance all of your system components so that no one thing is too fast.

Now, the rough amount of RAM for your needs.

1gb: Good luck. You're iPhone "X" has more.
2gb: You can install Windows 7, but good luck opening two tabs.
4gb: Casual web browsers and Office users should be fine, and a 64 bit OS will not be needed.
6gb: With 6gb, you need a 64 bit OS. Check which 64 bit Windows OS support more than 6gb. Hint... All of Apple's OSs as of of late have been 64bit.
8gb: Pretty much standard in Apple's current computers, and you should be able to run most low power games and movie streaming will be a breeze.
16gb: Lots and lots of games can be run on 16gb. Apple offered this in the newest Macbook Pro Retina.
32gb: Go ahead and run 4 graphics cards in SLI or Crossfire, while feeling free to use a lot of hard drives.
64gb: Use some tessellation units, fill all your hard drive bays, all your PCI slots, and get a good CPU.
128gb: You will need an operating system like Windows 7 Ultimate to support that much.

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